Aircraft Carriers

Oral Answers to Questions — Defence – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 22nd June 1998.

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Photo of Andrew MacKinlay Andrew MacKinlay Labour, Thurrock 12:00 am, 22nd June 1998

If he will make a statement on his replacement programme for aircraft carriers and the provision of amphibious lift. [45230]

Photo of John Spellar John Spellar Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Ministry of Defence)

We have considered the future requirement for aircraft carriers and amphibious lift capability in the strategic defence review. We expect to announce our conclusions in the near future.

Photo of Andrew MacKinlay Andrew MacKinlay Labour, Thurrock

While I do not challenge the prudence of conducting the comprehensive spending review, may I respectfully remind my hon. Friend, and through him the Chancellor of the Exchequer, that it is made explicit in our Labour manifesto—our new Labour manifesto, which I signed and am proud to be associated with—that our strategic defence review would be foreign-policy-led? Essential to fulfilling our foreign policy objectives is the expeditionary capacity that is provided by carriers. If we are to have power projection to stay off horizon where necessary and help in humanitarian and peacekeeping operations, we need that carrier capacity. That matter should not be in any doubt, and the Government should proclaim now that the replacements for the Invincible class carriers will be delivered and are essential to our defence needs.

Photo of John Spellar John Spellar Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Ministry of Defence)

They will no doubt be called the HMS Mackinlay. My hon. Friend argues strongly in favour of future aircraft carriers. Those arguments are being weighed heavily and seriously as part of the strategic defence review, and we hope to make an announcement on the outcome in the not-too-distant future.

Photo of Keith Simpson Keith Simpson Shadow Spokesperson (Defence)

As usual, the hon. Member for Thurrock (Mr. Mackinlay) has put his finger exactly on the Government's problem: whether they will deliver real carriers. Those of us who watched "The Paper War", the BBC2 documentary on the strategic defence review broadcast the other week, witnessed a meeting during which there was much badinage between Ministers about naming the carriers. The Minister for the Armed Forces suggested HMS Robertson and the Secretary of State favoured the HMS Gordon Brown.

Does the Minister agree with the permanent under-secretary that there is no need to put anything definite in the strategic defence review? Does he believe that he needs to say only that the Government are minded in principle to have a new generation of carriers and will not, in fact, order them? Will it be a paper strategic defence review?

Photo of John Spellar John Spellar Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Ministry of Defence)

I welcome the hon. Gentleman to the Dispatch Box. If he continues to ask questions such as that, he will be welcome to stay for a considerable time.

As I have said, the serious arguments advanced by my hon. Friend the Member for Thurrock (Mr. Mackinlay) are being weighed very heavily in the strategic defence review. The matter is being finally evaluated, and we shall make an announcement in the not-too-distant future. Those are the serious issues that are being debated—rather than, I regret to say, the superficial question to which we were just subjected.

Photo of John Hutton John Hutton Labour, Barrow and Furness

Is my hon. Friend aware that the Navy's three aircraft carriers, the first of which was built by my constituents, provide it with an important capability to support our forces, and those of our allies, when deployed in out-of-area operations? We are modernising our amphibious capability with the construction of HMS Ocean, again in my constituency, and two assault landing ships for the Royal Marines. Can my hon. Friend say more positively that, if we are to ensure that that new amphibious capability will be fully effective, we will need in due course to consider a replacement for the Invincible class carriers?

Photo of John Spellar John Spellar Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Ministry of Defence)

I thank my hon. Friend for that question, and for his considerable and effective lobbying over several years on behalf of the Royal Navy and the excellent qualities of the shipyard in his constituency. These serious issues are being weighed in the strategic defence review. We look forward to making an announcement on that in the not-too-distant future. I take into account the excellent work of the Vickers yard in my hon. Friend's constituency, and of its loyal and highly skilled work force.